Hampton Roads Naval Museum Educator
While researching arms and armament of the United States Navy we happened across a peculiar statement, “The Navy model Colt revolver was made for the Navy, and thus so named.” Being the ever-skeptical students of history that we are, we felt this needed some examination. Indeed, the Model 1851 Colt revolver bears an elaborate engraving on the cylinder of a naval engagement. With limited exception, by the time of the American Civil War, all Colt’s patent revolvers bore some type of cylinder engraving. It would be reasonable to assume that the naval scene engraved upon the “Navy” model was done in homage to the U.S. Navy and the pistols produced for their use. However this is not the case!
|Early advertisement for Colt’s revolving pistols. The cylinder scenes were used to discourage counterfeit production--A real fear in the 1800s. The center scene is for the “Navy” sized pistols. (Image courtesy True West Magazine)|
The Colt Navy cylinder engraving would have looked like this, had the cylinder been flattened out.
|Commodore Edwin Moore in a Texas Navy uniform.|
– from a letter by Commodore Edwin Moore to Sam Colt
It would appear that the purchase of Colt’s revolvers at such a critical time, and the very much-appreciated compliment about its performance in battle, might have inspired Colt to commission the engraving with this nautical battle scene on many of his revolvers. However this is only speculation as we could find no evidence from the company as such. Now with the Navy scene firmly engraved on most of Colt’s revolvers it seems it would be safe to say the “Navy” moniker has evolved from this distinction. It may be of note that the original designation for these pistols was that of the “Ranger” model. Interestingly enough, the naval engraving also carried over to the larger “Army” pistols produced a few years later. Soldiers and sailors on both sides of the Civil War would go bravely into battle with the confidence that their Colt revolver would see them through, perhaps inspired by the Texas Navy at Campeche.
For further reading on the Sam Colt and Colt revolvers please see The Story of Colt’s Revolver; The Biography of Col. Sam Colt, by William B. Edwards.